Baker, James

Letter
Date:
February 19, 1942
To:
JB
From:
Hilary
Old Pay House, Godstone, Surrey

Feb. 19, -42

JB dear:

My poor little untouchable! What luck you have! I do hope your ‘mumps' behaves properly & doesn't develop any of the unpleasant complications which I'm told it can develop. I'm so glad your arm is doing well. It's awfully hard luck getting mumps just now - how on earth did you catch it in hospital? I was so glad to have your letter because I hadn't heard from you for what seemed some time. Actually I wrote to you yesterday evening but as I was feeling very tired and dopey, it was even worse than this letter will be. I'm sorry about the awful writing, I haven't been using my right arm very much yet.

Actually pneumonia is quite a comfortable illness, you just don't know anything for ages. In fact, I didn't really become aware of anything until Tuesday before last when I developed acute neuritis in my right thigh, knee and ankle. Then I knew all about everything on Saturday: Dr. Hill arrived & finding me still in agonies, suggested I sat up in the armchair for half an hour in the evening in the hopes that a complete change of position might help to cure the neuritis (it did). Now begins the tale of my downfall.

Caryl lifted me onto the chair and I lasted my half-hour but before Caryl had time to lift me back to bed, I fainted, the rest of the tale I heard next morning. It seems that Caryl - with mistaken zeal, gave me a tablespoon of the very best brandy, neat!! To his consternation, it went straight to my head! For half an hour, I talked of nothing but vultures & Caryl - although convulsed with laughter, answered me quite seriously. I insisted that the room was full of ‘ever so many vultures'. I complained that ‘she's spoiled my nest, moved all the stones'. (As if anyone with an aching back would want to lie on stones!) Caryl offered to roll back the stones but I cried in dispair: no good! She rolled them all over the ledge. ‘Never mind' says Caryl, ‘I'll get you some more', then re-arranged my pillows. The climax came when ‘Hippo' brought in three glasses of lemonade for the night & I - pointing with a shaking finger, said "Three drinks for three vultures". I then lapsed into silence & very soon fell into a drunken stupor. I awoke in the morning quite unaware of my disgraceful behavior. I haven't slept so well for months. I hate the radio too. Caryl has removed the accumulator & hidden it, as Pop is longing to get in here (I'm in the sitting room) & turn it on full blast every evening. I can't think how people can bear it when they are ill - dead quiet is all I want!

Caryl - lucky dog, when to an ARP. dinner last night & gorged on pheasant & jugged hare. By the way, Peter has been called up. After a farewell visit to the Croyden Empire with Caryl & ‘Bugs', a farewell tea party with Caryl and June, & a farewell dance with June, he was finally launched forth to Maidstone last Thursday. June - finding Peter's pockets better lined than Caryl's, has deserted Caryl & clings like a leech to Peter. When she heard that Mr. & Mrs. Pragnell & grandfather Hayward were going down to see Peter last Sunday, June's mamma rang up Mrs. Pragnell four times in one afternoon to tell her how much poor little June missed Peter (he'd only been gone two days!) & how much she would like to see him, until Mrs. Pragnell - in despair, asked her father to go next time instead & let June go in his place. Really, considering June's only known Peter six weeks I must say, I think her awfully rude & tactless to burst in on his family's first visit to him. Maybe my illness in making me crabbed - Caryl has announced most dramatically that he has ‘done with June', but I bet it doesn't last.
This morning the French-Canadian called for the motorcycle which he & his friend left here on Boxing Day after their accident.

This morning I looked in a mirror for the first time since I fell sick. Revolting sight! I look awful, all haggard & bleached. I have got thin and ‘Hippo' says I look like a male-spider waiting to be eaten by its mate long, lean, apprehensive. As a matter of fact, I feel myself that if I were to stand on the banks of a stream, passers-by might easily mistake me for a long-legged bird bent on catching fish. There's not much to tell you as at present I lead the life of an infant: I eat and sleep. I cannot walk but when I tried to the other evening, Hippo roared with laughter & told me I looked liked a duckling on a frozen pond. Yesterday evening I stood up but my knees were jellied, as you would say.

Lottie - a girl I know here, is taking school for me, mornings only. Unfortunately she & a new child Roger (aged exactly four years) took a violent dislike to each other the moment they met. There have been awful scenes in the school room, during one, Roger was most affronted. She wanted me to expel him at once! Things now stand thus: Lottie refuses to teach if Roger comes, Roger isn't coming whilst Lottie is here. So Roger waits at home for me to start teaching again & peace reigns in the schoolroom again....so encouraging for the invalid!

This letter is all about me. I suppose because the world consists of me & my bed just at the moment. My illness has had a most startling effect on the animals. Breeze has developed a hollow groan which she emits when she thinks I'm getting all the attention. Tom stays out all night wooing Mrs. Tortoiseshell & comes in exhausted & covered in coal-dust in the morning. He shouts for food & having fed, goes to sleep. If we touch him, he lets out a petulant cry & covers his eyes with his paws...he has awful hangovers!

You poor darling! Do you mind being all alone in the ward? I'm sorry your friends have been ill. Dr. Hill says all the strongest people are getting pneumonia because they go out and do all sorts of things that weaker people don't feel up to doing in this weather. He says if I had not been so fit, I should not have had pneumonia. On the other hand - if I were not so strong, I shouldn't have recovered from it. How brave of you to go for long walks, everyone says it is freezing cold! I'm sorry you haven't heard from home in so long.

This is a very long letter, all about nothing. When I get up perhaps I'll have more to tell you. Betty's brother is in Singapore.

Do write again soon, Prutt dear, & tell me how you are getting on & what you are reading & thinking. Get over you mumps very quickly, darling. Everyone says it can be beastly uncomfortable, I hope it isn't for you. Do you exist on messy concoctions of beef tea & mutton broth? Or do you champ with glee through toast & other solid things? Hippo saved you some funnies.

Yours always,

Hilary

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